News analysis: Inside the feds’ blood lust for geese

The federal government approach toward geese became “more aggressive” — and more lethal — in the days after the so-called Miracle on the Hudson, resulting in the exclusion of animal experts from the decision-making process and setting the stage for the execution of thousands of waterfowl.

Prior to Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s lauded crash landing on the Hudson River, the city had used a mix of lethal and non-lethal measures to control the exploding goose population near airports.

But geese were not routinely slaughtered beyond that close range.

That all changed after investigators blamed migratory geese for the plane’s engine failure — leading to a widespread cry from laymen and the media for goose eradication.

At that point, “the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services [became] more aggressive, and more effective, than the variety of non-lethal measures that had been used at both airports for many years,” said Bryan Swift, the leader of the game bird unit for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

That aggressive plan was expanded this year to include geese populations seven miles away from city airports, leading to the much-condemned killing of some 290 birds in Prospect Park.

But as in any war, one of the casualties is the truth. In this case, dialogue between government officials and animal experts was lost in the bloodlust.

Experts from the two organizations most actively involved in pre-crash discussions with goose policy makers — Geese Peace and the Humane Society of the United States — say they have barely spoken to government agencies since the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

“We are sick and tired of hearing them claim to have included us in the process” of goose control, said Laura Simon, the urban wildlife director with the Humane Society. “We’re very frustrated. They have not included us in the decision-making process.”

The president of Geese Peace, an organization that has orchestrated non-lethal programs in two dozen cities around the country, including the capital of New Jersey, similarly scoffed at the notion of any dialogue with government officials.

“We’re only in regular contact in the sense that we’re constantly telling them they’re wrong [and] them not listening to us,” said David Feld, the president of Geese Peace.

Simon said the Humane Society had not been included in any deliberations on goose policy since the crash landing. Feld said he had attended one meeting, which did not go well.

The various government agencies in the committee that ordered the culling say that outside experts were consulted while determining the best measures to control the geese population, which has grown to around 20,000 in the greater Metropolitan Area, according to the state environmental agency — a number often cited as justification for the culling.

But both Simon and Feld insist that goose mass murder is actually ineffective in improving air safety, and that measures such as egg destruction and habitat modification — making an area look less inviting to geese — are critical to managing the bird population.

“Many of the geese wouldn’t have even hatched if they’d followed the egg-addling program we recommended,” said Simon. “The killing of geese is a waste of taxpayer money and animal lives — and it’s not making people safer!”

Feld agreed.

“Go to any place where they’ve done roundups, and the geese are back, and then they just end up having to do it again,” Feld said.

Swift conceded that goose mitigation plans have thus far not been effective overall, since the population of the birds has grown in the state from 137,000 in 1999 to a whopping 257,000 in spring of this year, according to him.

During that time, bird strikes against aircraft are actually down, a tribute to better mitigation methods in the immediate vicinity of airports, experts said.

The city claims it is listening to outside experts.

“The committee was, and still is, aware of the breadth of opinions on bird-reduction strategies as the city has discussed its efforts with the Humane Society and Geese Peace,” said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. “The USDA is also in regular contact with Geese Peace and a member of the Humane Society sits on the USDA’s National Wildlife Service Advisory Committee.”